Insurance and financial institutions litigator James Jorden is leading a team of 14 partners from Carlton Fields, where he was a name partner, to Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle & Reath.
The news comes with Carlton Fields’ announcement of a downtown Miami office move next year, and plans by Drinker Biddle to open in Miami. The mass defections also expand Drinker Biddle’s Washington office and a new one in Hartford, Connecticut.
Jorden’s 70-lawyer firm, Jorden Burt, merged with Tampa-based Carlton Fields in 2014, and the firm committed to a two-year name change to Carlton Fields Jorden Burt. Carlton Fields formally dropped Jorden Burt from its name Feb. 28.
Drinker Biddle said more lawyers from Carlton Fields may switch, and Drinker is planning to open an office in Miami in the near future to accommodate James Jorden’s group.
Drinker Biddle chairman Andrew Kassner said in an interview Wednesday that the firm has had an eye on the Southeast, and clients have particularly noted the importance of South Florida as a litigation center.
In Miami, Carlton Fields will move from the Miami Tower to the newly built 2 MiamiCentral at the Brightline train station in early 2020.
Before the Drinker Biddle announcement, Carlton Fields said it would move all 150 Miami employees from its current 69,000-square-foot space on the 42nd floor to a 50,000-square-foot office across 2.5 floors.
The firm with incorporate innovative office design, such as more common areas and multipurpose space, and the move is expected to ease the office commute for both staff and clients, said Amy Furness, co-managing shareholder for the Miami office.
“We were hoping to incorporate some collaborative space throughout, making sure that there are hubs on each floor for technology, for information, placing televisions appropriately to provide news and other data,” Furness said. The firm will “give our clients the opportunity to meet privately with us and still get the experience of an open and interactive space.”
Law firms across the U.S. are opting for smaller offices and in some cases same-sized offices for all attorneys regardless of seniority. Carlton Fields hasn’t said if it would incorporate these ideas while working on its new space with architectural firm Gensler.
The new location is above the Brightline station with quick connections to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It’s also a short walk from Metrorail and Metromover stops. The existing building has a Metromover stop.
“It’s going to help us attract new business and talent. It’s going to help is provide our employees with access to transit that they do not have currently,” Furness said.
The Carlton Fields lease at 2 MiamiCentral, completed six months ago at 700 NW First Ave., brought the building to 86 percent occupancy, according to Tere Blanca, founder and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate and leasing agent for the office space.
In a statement Wednesday, Carlton Fields partners Ann Black and Markham Leventhal, who co-lead the firm’s financial services industry group, said the firm wished the departing group continued success.
“Carlton Fields continues to have a very deep bench in class action and insurance litigation, of course,” they said. “We are retaining all of our extraordinary financial services regulatory and transactional attorneys, and we will not miss a beat in terms of our ability to meet the needs of our financial services clients and this industry sector. We are very well positioned to grow this group in both its depth and its breadth.”
When Carlton Fields and Jorden Burt merged, the combined firm’s revenue increased by $45 million compared with Carlton Fields’ revenue the year before. The two firms were well-matched in terms of profits per equity partner.
But The American Lawyer reported in 2015, quoting a source with inside knowledge of the merger, that the combined firm saw its profit margin shrink because of the addition of Jorden Burt’s lower-rate insurance practice in Connecticut and Washington.
Washington-based Jorden said he and the partners moving with him have all worked together for at least 10 years, and most of them have been working together for 15 to 20 years.
Jorden said his group was seeking ”as broad a national platform as possible” for their litigation and class actions practice, in which they represent financial institutions, life insurance, mutual funds, investment firms and banks. He said they were also drawn to Drinker Biddle’s capital markets, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, securities, funds and life insurance work.
“We as a group have always believed you grow or you die,” Jorden said. “We’re constantly thinking about where do we need to go, and how do we get there?”
Moving with Jorden in Washington are partners Frank Burt, Josephine Cicchetti, Roland Goss, W. Glenn Merten, Shaunda Patterson-Strachan, Brian Perryman, Waldemar Pflepsen Jr., Kristen Reilly, Kristin Ann Shepard and Dawn B. Williams, as well as three associates.
In Hartford, partners Stephen Jorden, Ben Seessel and Michael Valerio will be partners, with Stephen Jorden serving as regional partner in charge of the office.
“It’s not every day that we add a group of practitioners that are so nationally recognized,” Kassner said.
Insurance and financial services are core sectors for Drinker.
Jorden declined to name his group’s clients. According to federal court records, in recent years he has represented Genworth Life Insurance Co. of New York, Market Synergy Group Inc., Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America and Voya Financial Inc.
Lidia Dinkova contributed to this report.